First Lines: "Brother Ass found Father Elijah in the onion garden. The old monk was hoeing, sweating under his straw bonnet, and the young brother felt a moment of pity for him."
Summary: Father Elijah is a Carmelite monk at a monastery near Jerusalem. Raised in Warsaw, he lived through the atrocities of World War II. However, the rest of his family did not. It was this suffering, combined with more difficulties in his adult life that brought him to the Catholic faith and to the life of a monk. He has been quite content to live this life for the past twenty years, having never left the monastery.
So, it is a bit unnerving when he is called into the world to assist the Pope. He wonders why he was chosen and thinks there must be someone better equipped than he to carry out this mission. When he is sent he really doesn't know what his mission is, except that it relates to archeology, a longstanding interest of his. When he finally meets with the Pope the mission is made clear. There is a new President of Europe who is rapidly rising in power. He has many followers and more each day. The Pope has asked Elijah to warn him of his spiritual danger and attempt to convert him to the faith. The President also has an interest in archeology and this will be the connection between the two of them. The Pope realizes that the President only wants to use the Church as a way to gain more followers. Elijah will meet the President to report on some new Dead Sea Scrolls that have been discovered. It is a dangerous mission that could cost Elijah his life.
My thoughts: I generally avoid apocalyptic novels and those that far exceed 400 pages, so if a friend had not recommended this book I never would have picked it up. However, I really enjoyed this novel and am so glad I chose to read it.
Father Elijah is such an interesting character. At first he seems like a typical monk who relishes solitude, work and the routines of daily life in a monastery. He is definitely that person now, but as the story unfolds, we learn of his past and how he came to choose this life. He is very devout and often encourages other members of the cloth in their faith. I loved all those things about him. But, I equally loved the juxtaposition of Billy, his friend from his first days in the monastery. Billy is nothing like what you would expect a monk to be. He is very outgoing, dresses in fine clothes and drives a luxury car. By looking at him you would never guess that he is a man of the cloth. However, he is also very devout and intelligent. He does important work for the Vatican and is especially suited to do it. Their mutual respect for one another is wonderful.
This book read like a thriller with lots of twists and turns. There are murders and cover-ups and people not being who they seem to be. Father Elijah communicates in code with more than one person. He must meet in secret with others. Someone is bugging offices and cars and other things. No where is safe. There were a couple of parts that did slow down a bit. These sections were usually where Elijah was in a debate with someone about faith in God. They may have been slower, but were rich in theology. The author's clean writing style made it easy to read.
I am not Catholic, but I enjoyed reading about the rituals of the church. There was also a fair amount of WWII history involved as Father Elijah was a Holocaust survivor. He traveled to Rome and Poland in the course of the story. While in Poland, he visited the place he used to live, knowing it would have changed, but needing to see it anyway. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside in Italy.
I have not read any of the other novels in this series, but I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Overall, this was a fascinating read.
"'Also, among your many outstanding gifts you have the gift of humor. You make me laugh. I'm a serious person, you may have noticed.'
'I noticed that. You're not exactly a funny guy, Davy.'
'You see, you can't help yourself. You always say amusing things. That is a gift from the Lord. It lifts the heart.'"
"'I live here in this great city like a monachus, a solitary one. I pray. I work. I put good books in the hands of the people. Perhaps good thoughts are born in their minds. That is my calling.'"